Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rheims and the Privy Council Note by Peter Farey

When in 1925 Leslie Hotson established that the "Christopher Morley" named in the Privy Council note of 29 June 1587 must have been the playwright Christopher Marlowe, he rather avoided the question of just what the Privy Council had meant when they said that he "was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Rheims, and there to remain", and this is something which has appeared to cause some confusion ever since.

Was the Privy Council saying it was rumoured he had actually gone to Rheims or not? This paper tries to answer that question. Although there is little doubt that he could have gone to Rheims at some point while he was still at Cambridge, we are concerned here only with what the Privy Council's note actually says, and what it is reasonable to infer from it.

According to Hotson (p.62), "Marlowe had been employed as an agent in State affairs, probably abroad," and "Busy tongues had falsely given it out that he was to go to Rheims for a protracted stay." The suggestion seems to be that he may have paid Rheims a quick visit, with the intention of going back "to remain" there at a later date. However, the actual words of the Privy Council note are not examined closely.

Since that time, most biographers tend to have tipped in one or other of the two different directions. One is that the Council was referring to a rumour that he had actually been to Rheims. The other is about a rumour that says no such thing. Constance Brown Kuriyama, however, could be thought to favour both answers:

"It tells us that he was rumoured to have gone to Rheims" – yes – and "[He was]...reportedly planning to go to the English seminary at Rheims and remain there" – no. (p.70)

In the former camp – those appearing to interpret the Council's words as saying that he was rumoured to have gone there – we find the following:
John Bakeless, "It is easy to see why the master and fellows of puritanical Corpus Christi looked with disfavour on a scholar suspected of journeys thither." (p.83)

William Urry, "when he was taking his MA degree, he was under suspicion of going beyond the seas." (p.72)

A.D. Wraight, "... rumour had been rife to the effect that he had been sojourning in Rheims." (p.87)

M.J. Trow, "The earlier part of the sentence 'was determined' either shows Marlowe's keenness to be of service or is merely Elizabethan speak for 'was ordered'. There is little doubt that he went to Rheims..." (pp.66–7)

David Riggs, "His rumoured journey to the Catholic seminary at Rheims" (p.5) and "the rumour that Marlowe had defected to Rheims." (p.130)

Also (apparently) the Marlowe Society, still reflecting on its website the original words of A.D. Wraight, "the rumour spread at Cambridge that Christopher Marlowe had gone to Rheims as a Catholic convert." In his review of M.J. Trow’s book for the Society's Newsletter, 'Benedict' also said that he thought it meant that Marlowe was discovered by the college to have gone there. (p.21)
Opposed to them, by favouring the "not rumoured to have been to Rheims" interpretation, are the following:
Frederick Boas, "the rumour might easily be spread and accepted that he was intending to join them in their principal continental centre." (p.27)

Charles Nicholl, "It is sometimes said, on the strength of this document, that Marlowe actually went to Rheims. This seems unlikely. ... The Council officially denies his 'determination' to go there: this was, they say, an 'intent' which he did not have." (p.113)

Peter Roberts, "a letter to the University authorities to scotch the rumour that 'Christopher Morley' had entertained plans to quit the realm and to settle in Rheims..." (p.24)

Park Honan, "The rumour of his wish to go overseas reached his college's master, Robert Norgate." (p.153)
So which is it? Here are the actual words they used:
"Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Rheims and there to remain, their Lordships thought good to certify that he had no such intent ..."
It would appear that the problem is mainly caused by that phrase "have gone". If they had said instead that it was reported he "was determined to go ... to Rheims and there to remain" there would have been no difficulty. The rumour would have been that it was his firm intention to go there and to stay there, and when the Privy Council certified that "he had no such intent" it would have been this firm intention they meant.

The problem is that, at least to our modern ears, the words "have gone" seem to shift the whole thing into the past, but this causes a problem. How is it possible to be firmly resolved to do something which has already happened? It isn't, of course, so a different meaning for "was determined to" has to be found.

The one we have used so far is as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as "to have come to a decision or definite resolve (to do something); to be finally or firmly resolved". Among their examples they include two from Shakespeare:
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
(Richard III)

What are you then determined to do?
(Julius Caesar)
to which we might add another from Shakespeare:
...Are you yet determined
Today to marry with my brother's daughter?
(Much Ado About Nothing)
and, not to be left out, one from Marlowe:
These taxes and afflictions are befall'n,
And therefore thus we are determined;
(The Jew of Malta)
Those who want to find a meaning which will allow it to refer to something which has already happened, however, apparently take it to mean that Marlowe was "decided" (i.e. by the College) to have gone there, or that it was "discovered", "suspected", "believed" or "known" by them.

Of these usages, only "decided" has any support at all offered by the OED. There we find "determine. II. To bring to an end a dispute, controversy, or doubtful matter; to conclude, settle, decide, fix." Within this category are "4.a. trans. To settle or decide (a dispute, question, matter in debate), as a judge or arbiter" and "4.c. with subordinate clause, expressing the matter at issue." Their examples – not quite the same as the one we are considering but the best on offer – include, for the first:
Let the laws of Rome determine all.
(Titus Andronicus 1.1. 404)
and for the second
When it was determined [earlier versions demed, concluded, decreed] that we
should saile into Italy.
(1611 Bible, Acts xxvii. 1)
So, it was reported that he was decided to have gone; awkward, but perhaps not impossible. Even more awkward, though, are the words which follow immediately after, "and there to remain." With those added it now says that it was reported that it was decided that he had gone to Rheims, and there to remain. What is that supposed to mean?

The Privy Council certify that "he had no such intent", which may help. Should we assume that they had wanted the word "intended" simply to be understood, as follows? "Whereas it was reported that he was decided to have gone to Rheims, and (that he intended) there to remain, their Lordships thought good to certify that he had no such intent..."

The intent would now refer just to the possibility of his remaining there, and not to the going, and may even support David Riggs's idea that they had "finessed the whole question of whether he had actually gone". Or were they saying that he hadn't actually intended to go, but they packed him off overseas anyway?

All of this is becoming very complicated, of course, just because of the original difficulty presented to our modern ears by that phrase "have gone". We have this rather strange "it was reported that it was determined that"; we have to use the words "was determined" in a way for which there really appears to be no precedent; and we must assume either that the phrase "that he intended" should have been included, but wasn't, or that he was sent to Rheims even though he hadn't intended to go. Isn't there an easier meaning?

Well yes, there is a much easier one, but it becomes apparent only if we look at what a phrase like "was determined to have gone" would have meant to people at the time, and not the way we would read it today. Assuming that what would have been the normal meaning for "was determined" concerned someone's intention to do something, please look at the following.
I know it well, sir. Lo, here's the chain.
I thought to have ta'en you at the Porcupine.
(The Comedy of Errors)

I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof;
(A Midsummer Night's Dream)

I thank your honour. For my part, my lord,
My purpose was not to have seen you here,
(The Merchant of Venice)

For thy part, Claudio,
I did think to have beaten thee,
(Much Ado About Nothing)

I thought to have told thee of it, but I feared
Lest I might anger thee.
(The Tempest)
All quite illuminating, but probably the most helpful examples come from Foxe's Book of Martyrs (with emphasis added):
"Thomas Hitton ... took his journey toward Rochester in Kent, intending to have gone to Dover, and so to have crossed the seas into France and other countries for a time, where reposing himself a while, he might be free from the heat of persecution. As he was going on his intended journey, [he was] brought before the ... archbishop of Canterbury ...who demanded of him from whence he came, and whither he intended to have gone, if he had not been intercepted? The same Thomas answered, that he came out of the diocese of Norwich, and purposed to have gone beyond the seas, if God had so permitted."
So what about "he was determined (i.e. intended) to have gone beyond the seas" in the Privy Council document? In the context of all of these examples it clearly states the rumour as being that it was his intention to go to Rheims, but that – as in the case of every other example above – it hadn't happened.

As was said earlier, he may well have actually gone there, but we must surely interpret their words as not being in any way ambiguous but as saying that although it had been reported that Christopher Marlowe was fully intending to go beyond the seas to Rheims and to remain there, he had had no such intent. And that this rumour should be allayed.

© Peter Farey, 2012

Peter Farey's essay “Hoffman and the Authorship” is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe." He is a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society.Em
merich Anonymous

Bakeless, John. 1942. The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe. Harvard.
'Benedict', in The Marlowe Society Newsletter 17 (Autumn 2001).
Boas, Frederick S. 1940. Christopher Marlowe: A Biographical and Critical Study. Oxford.
Honan, Park. 2005. Christopher Marlowe, Poet & Spy. Oxford.
Hotson, Leslie. 1925. The Death of Christopher Marlowe. London.
Kuriyama, Constance Brown. 2002.Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life. Cornell.
Nicholl, Charles. 2002. The Reckoning: the Murder of Christopher Marlowe. Vintage.
Riggs, David. 2004. The World of Christopher Marlowe. Faber & Faber.
Roberts, Peter. 1996/9. "The 'Studious Artizan'" in Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture. Eds. Darryll Grantley & Peter Roberts. Ashgate.
Trow, M.J. 2001. Who Killed Kit Marlowe? Sutton.
Urry, William. 1988. Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury. Faber & Faber.
Wraight, A.D. & Virginia Stern. 1965. In Search of Christopher Marlowe. MacDonald & Co.


Cynthia Richards said...

Mr. Farey,
As always, very thought provoking work!
For what it's worth, here's my humble take on the sentence in question:
It reads like something taken out of hastily written meeting minutes. The phrase "it was reported" unfortunately does not tell us by whom or to whom. But this report perhaps refers not to a rumor about Christopher Morley, but to a report about him that was presented during a Privy Council meeting. It seems to me that someone had been given the task of reporting back to the Council about what was being said about Morley, perhaps at Corpus Christi. That Morley "was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Rheims . . ." is what that person learned and conveyed to those present at the meeting.
I take "was determined" in the sense of "something that has been settled conclusively." So the question arises, settled by whom? Again, the writer is not specific. Perhaps he meant "by the university authorities." They had perhaps heard rumors about Morley that, after a bit of inquiry, they decided ("determined") to be true. If Morley/Marlowe indeed were in Rheims, spying for the Queen, and the Privy Council had been aware of it, it makes a great deal of sense that "their Lordships [the Council members] thought good to certify that he had no such intent" of going to Rheims and remaining. They covered for him by undermining the conclusion (determination) that he was there. This would have been consistent with their protection of him at other points in his life as a spy.
--Cynthia Richards

Dan Sayers said...

Well that clears that one up. Well done, Peter

Peter Farey said...

Hello Cynthia,

Thanks for your comment.

You say that you take "was determined" in the sense of "something that has been settled conclusively." But the words are actually "he was determined", and I am unable to find any example of such a phrase having ever been used in this way.

On the other hand, there is a very common meaning for someone "being determined" (i.e. resolved) to do something. And once we see that an intention to have done something was also a common expression in those days, and implied that it hadn't actually happened, the whole thing makes perfect sense.

What is it that you find wrong with this explanation?


Cynthia Richards said...

Thanks for your reply to my comment.
I don't find anything wrong with your explanation--which is compelling and obviously very well researched. It just seemed to me not to be necessarily conclusive because of the other possible use of the word "determined," and the possibility that the note was hastily written--as reports of what has transpired at meetings often are. Haste might account for the awkwardness of the phrase "he was determined to have gone . . ." if used in the sense of "it was determined that he went . . ." (I would be interested in knowing more about the context of the note.)
However, regardless of what the note tells us or doesn't tell us about Marlowe in relation to Rheims, what I think is most interesting is the last part, where we learn that the Lordships "thought good" to step in and do damage control: evidence that he had friends in high places who saw him as someone worthy of their protection. Perhaps years later some of them may have also "thought good" to help him stage his fake death.


Peter Farey said...

Cynthia, you said: "It just seemed to me not to be necessarily conclusive because of the other possible use of the word 'determined,' and the possibility that the note was hastily written--as reports of what has transpired at meetings often are."

You say that there is another possible use of the word "determined". But I say that I have been unable to find any other meaning for the phrase "was determined to" to mean anything other than that the subject of it had an intention to do whatever it was. Please give me an example of it meaning what you say it might mean from the days before our grammar became as careless as it is nowadays!

The note doesn't in any case appear to be the "hastily written" report of what happened at a meeting either. Look at Dasent's transcript in "Acts of the Privy Council" at (and 141) and at the photocopy in Dolly Wraight's "In Search of..." on Cynthia's site at This does not appear to be the minute of a meeting, but the actual words of a certificate which will be signed as such by "Lord Archbishop, Lord Chancelor, Lord Threasurer, Lord Chamberlaine, and Mr. Comptroler."

Regardless of this, your comment about the importance of it in terms of Marlowe's relationship with people in power at the top of Elizabethan government is of course right.


Cynthia Richards said...

Thank you for the website information.
I actually did not intend to go to battle over my suggested possible interpretation! Your interpretation is backed by careful scholarship--while my suggestion is not.
I always look forward to your articles.


daver852 said...

I am almost afraid to mention this, but there are some lines in Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy," that could support the alternative interpretation:

Hier: It was determined to have been acted,
By gentlemen and schollers, too,
Such as could tell what to speake.

Peter Farey said...

I don't think so, Dave.

As I see it, Heironimo is saying that his play was intended to be played by gentlemen and scholars, to which Balthasar says that it will now be played by princes and courtiers instead. In other words, as in the case of the trip to Rheims, what was intended has not actually happened.


daver852 said...

After reading the entire scene, I'm inclined to agree with you, Peter.